Mondegreen Lyrics

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“Mondegreens” are mis-heard lyrics that often become more widely known than the original song lyrics. For instance “ ’scuse me while I kiss this guy” in the rock song “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix. (Correct lyrics “ ’scuse me while I kiss the sky”.)

Sadly, bluegrass music has a several songs where the original recording has very clear, understandable and sensible lyrics – but years of performers and jammers singing mis-heard lyrics have stamped the “wrong” words, or mondegreens, into most folks’ memories.

One that really grates on me is the Flatt & Scruggs absolute CLASSIC “Blue Ridge Cabin Home”. Even Tony Rice with the Bluegrass Album Band sang “When I die won’t you bury me ON the mountain”, although Lester Flatt clearly wrote and sang “When I die won’t you bury me IN the mountains”. I suppose to many this isn’t a big deal, but how much effort does it take to find out the correct lyrics and learn to sing them (and teach them to others)?

Today’s trivia involves another common bluegrass mondegreen. One of Bill Monroe’s most popular uptempo numbers, done by top performers and jammers everywhere is “On My Way Back to the Old Home”. The opening line goes “Back in the days of my childhood, in the evening when everything was still…” In the last line of the chorus, it has become common to sing a mondegreen – incorrect lyrics.

In your answer, feel free to go even further and list another bluegrass mondegreen as an example. As a tie breaker!

The winner will get to stand up in front of the next gathering of the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association and sing all 43 verses of Barbara Allen, correctly.


Which of these two last lines is CORRECT?

A. But there’s no light in the window, that shined on the road where I lived

B. But there’s no light in the window, that shined long ago where I lived


Additional Bowden Comments

Listen carefully to Bill Monroe’s original recording of “On My Way Back to the Old Home” with Jimmy Martin joining in on the chorus. They very clearly sing “that shined long ago where I lived”. Answer is B.

It baffles me how top bluegrass singers often choose to sing “on the road where I lived”. But there you have it. “The road” IS mentioned in the second line of the chorus…perhaps it imprints on some singers’ brains.

Here’s Bill and Jimmy.

Compare and contrast Tony Rich and Doyle Lawson with the Bluegrass Album Band.

Dick Bowden

Dick Bowden recently retired after a 45 year career in the paper industry, and moved from Connecticut to Big Indian NY (Ulster County) where he ekes out a precarious existence as a groundskeeper. Dick has been performing bluegrass music on banjo and guitar since 1966 in his home state of Maine, throughout New England, and internationally with The Case Brothers - Martin & Gibson. He has performed for HVBA with the Old Time Bluegrass Singers, and also sent in a squadron of Dick Bowden's Flying Circus. Most recently Dick has played Dobro (tm) with the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Dick has written many articles for Bluegrass Unlimited, Bluegrass Today, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass magazine) and HVBA.

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